Monday, September 10, 2007

Time to call your congressmen

I can't think of much to say about this because it depresses me. Please note that the column states that only 25 Senators voted to remove this malodorous text from the bill. That means that most of us need to do some calling. I certainly intend to find out how my Senators voted and let them know what I think about this crap.
The pork here revolves around the West Los Angeles Medical Center, though this is no average veterans' facility. Donated to the government in 1888, the center is 387 sprawling, prime real-estate acres in the middle of tony West L.A. More than twice the size of the National Mall, it is surrounded by the mansions and playgrounds of the city's elite, including the Bel Air Country Club and the Beverly Hills estates of Sylvester Stallone, Barry Bonds and Tim McGraw (to name a few).

Huge portions of the facility are also a veritable ghost town. It isn't just that 387 acres is an enormous space, and far larger than any one veteran's community in today's America might ever need. According to the U.S. Census Bureau, Los Angeles County also falls on the lowest end in terms of the percentage of veterans living in the area. Nationally, veterans make up about 12.7% of people over the age of 18; the county's average is below 8.5%. Of 91 buildings on campus, 21 are today partially or wholly vacant. Meanwhile, the number of enrolled veterans in that facility is expected to decline by nearly a quarter over the next 20 years.

Which is why, when the Department of Veteran's Affairs set up a process in 2002 to study its infrastructure and rationalize its facilities, it designated the West L.A. center as one of 18 sites that might be downsized, any extra land being used to produce more revenue for veterans' needs. Under law, 108 acres of the L.A. site can't be touched, but the remaining 200-plus acres sit in the middle of a highly desirable real estate area and could yield significant financial gain. The VA has yet to make any decisions, but according to government estimates, even a modest reuse of the property--say leasing out excess acreage--could result in an extraordinary $4 billion for better care for veterans everywhere.

Given the recent uproar over Walter Reed, and Congress's many calls that we do more for the men and women returning home wounded from Iraq and Afghanistan, you'd think no elected representative could possibly have the chutzpah to impede the VA's considered attempts to inject efficiency into its facilities and provide better care for its constituents. Think ever so much again. It turns out the well-to-do in West L.A. consider the veteran's center grounds their own little rolling, personal park, and they want it to stay that way--thank you very much.

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